Paul Dundon’s Weblog

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A little cheese and a little whine

Weeping

Ashamed at her task
Death handed Life a Lie
And Life marched on
While all around him lay
The broken souls of those
Who knew the truth

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Filed under: Writing

507

Overwhelmed by meaning
I sit located
In a plethora of networks
Symbols surround me
Gateways and connections
To every lived experience
I feel I could reach out and touch
Humanity itself
I feel inspired
A thousand ties
Connect me to eternity
Destiny and history
Well up within me
But I find I am the puppet,
Not the master
The very cords that raise my eyes
Bind my hands.

Filed under: Writing

The Old Shamen

All he does now is watch.
The young men no longer seek
His counsel; the women will not bear
The children that he could not feed
His mind is lively still but now his
Body will betray him, every step
That falters symbol of his impotence.
The young chief watches, surrounded by his kin
The jealous younger shamen near his side,
Counting, like the sage, the days until
The great god comes and takes him
Prevented only by Old Ways
From putting a more preemptory
End to his irrelevance.
He sees their faces: he has touched them all,
But only for a moment – his engagement
Fleeting, transitory, just a word, a charm
Enough to mend the problem, set the course
And then move on; he is present only
Where there is pain he can relieve
And now he can do nothing
And they no longer see him.
Only the gods whose will he sought
Await him now.

Filed under: Writing

A little drama

I should like a little drama; a little
Unpredictability
In a life of deadlines and commitments
I should like to stand, one windswept night,
And utter, “I must go now”
And turn my face into the rain, my long coat billowing
And walk away, knowing those I left behind
Would struggle but prevail; I should like
To be the only one to know the Secret
And struggle with the terrible decision
Of whom I should reveal it to.
But I will not let go of you
So I will push the rocks uphill each day
And do that which is necessary
To keep the roof above our heads
And feed us and provide
The hundred little comforts
That make you happy
The dishwasher will be my mission
My desk my great adventure
But I will keep you warm, and safe

Filed under: Writing

Tomorrow

In youth tomorrows
Are so many that no one
Can eclipse today

In age tomorrow
Is uncertainty and death
And today is life

But in times between
Tomorrow can become a
Dark and hungry god

Filed under: Writing

Remains

Haunted by the ghost

Of someone I knew long ago

I lie alone and listen

To the rain against the window

Caressing empty sheets I scan

The faces of today in memory

Knowing that he is not there,

Will never be; it is too late,

The possibility of him

Long faded into fantasy

And then the shade of wishfulness

Itself became a cypher, so that

Now, even as I touch

The memory of desire

It also passes, ’til the faint

Faint sense of old regrets

Is all that I have left of him

 

Filed under: Writing

Repetitive Complications

Credit due to Jim St. Ruth for developing the original gag

Phil stopped staring at his beer when he saw another glass placed on the table. Looking up he saw his two friends, David and Ian.

“Christ, Phil, you look terrible,” said David, ever the optimist.

“Yeah, mate,” said Ian, taking a seat, “what’s up?”

“I’ve just been to the doctor,” Phil replied, shifting slightly so that David could sit down. “He says I’ve got a bad case of expositionosis.”

“Expositionosis?” said David. “What’s that?”

“I’m glad you asked, David. It’s a condition which affects actors who have had too many parts of a certain kind in plays and television shows, specifically, the minor characters with lots of lines who have the job of explaining what’s going on to the audience.”

“It sounds terrible.”

“It is. The afflicted person starts to speak in a long-winded but emotionless manner, favouring long, multi-clause sentences over the patterns of natural speech, often using multiple conjunctions and quite unnatural constructions, combining unrelated details, as my friend Basildon Bond once remarked, in order to provide the main characters with the information they need without alerting the audience to the significance of what is being said.”

“Is there a cure?”

“There are some experimental treatments, but they’re extremely costly. For a jobbing actor like myself, barely scraping a living doing rep in this fine city of Birmingham, it would take some kind of miracle before I could afford anything. You’re both in the same position; you know how tight money is.”

“Well,” said David, suddenly animated, “you can count on us to do everything we can to help. If a miracle is what we need, then that’s what we’ll have to find!”

Phil paused. “That’s the other interesting thing about expositionosis. It’s mildly contagious. The first sign is that people around the infected person suddenly become filled with resolve to do something about whatever they talk about, promising to take action and signposting some future adventure and conflict.”

“Oh,” said David, suddenly deflated, and a little alarmed. “So am I – “

“Don’t worry,” said Phil. “Those symptoms are almost always temporary. It’s actually quite difficult to contract the disease. Even so, if I recall correctly, there are now five people in our company who have contracted it over the last year. In two cases, it was an even worse condition – expositionosis with repetitive complications.”

“Repetitive complications?”

“Repetitive complications. These seem to occur when the actor has been in too many plays written for audiences with a limited attention span. A limited attention span – meaning the writer has to say everything more than once. Repeat things, reiterate them, state them in several different ways.”

“Different ways?”

“Usually, but sufferers often find themselves just repeating things.”

“Repeating things?”

“Repeating things. It’s enormously debilitating. And, of course, mildly contagious.”

“And you say five people have come down with this in our company?”

“That’s right, five of us. It’s almost as if someone had it in for us.”

“But who could that be?” asked David. He paused. “Asking open questions is another temporary symptom, isn’t it?”

Phil nodded. “Everything seems to have started just after Karen died in that terrible accident.”

“Yes, I remember”

“It was when we had that freak tornado, a weather phenomenon almost completely unknown in this temperate climate.”

“Yes, I remember”

“She was caught right in its path and her car was thrown from the road.”

“Yes, I remember that happening. We all went to the funeral together".

“She was killed instantly. You must remember. We all went to the funeral together.”

“For fu –“

“Sorry. It gets the better of me sometimes. The puzzling thing is that you can really only contract the disease through an exchange of bodily fluids with an asymptomatic carrier. Someone who has the disease but doesn’t show the symptoms, something which is often the result of it being combined with some other related condition. Karen might have been such a carrier – I think she had cryptophrenia.”

“What’s that? God, you’re right, this is irritating.”

“It’s a pathological reluctance to share information which it is perfectly natural, if not positively advantageous for you to share. It comes from playing too many lead roles in detective dramas. When in possession of crucial information about, for example, the identity of a psychopath who has already tortured and killed a dozen people in order to cover their tracks, the rational person tells as many people as possible in order to decrease the chances of their own demise and indeed in the hope that said psychopath might, for example, get arrested. The cryptophrenia sufferer, however, keeps this information to themselves until they are able to reveal it in the most dramatic manner possible, making only vague allusions and promises to explain themselves later. The condition is sometimes fatal, although that often depends on the number of psychopaths living in the area.”

“My God,” said David, “I think you’re right – it would certainly explain what Karen said to me before she died.”

“What was that?” asked Ian.

“Pretty much nothing.” David paused. “You’re sure these symptoms are temporary, right?”

“I’m sure.”

“Even the repetitive complications?”

“Even the rep – oh, for goodness’ sake –“

“You remember she said she had a son she’d given up for adoption years ago? She said she thought he was here. But she wouldn’t say who it was, she just promised to tell me when she was sure.”

“Classic cryptophrenia,” said Phil. “That must have been just before the accident?”

“About half an hour. But if everyone has contracted expositionosis after that, she can’t have given it to them, can she?”

“No. There must be someone else involved.”

“So who’s infected?”

“Myself, James Taylor, Alison Warner, Patricia Holt and Sarah Dinkley.”

“Well, you and James were both in ‘Gay’s the Lord’, Alison and Sarah were in ‘A Kiss Before Flying’ and Sarah was in ‘Smooch!’ so you’ve all been exchanging saliva. In fact, you’ve all kissed – “. He stopped. He and Phil both stared silently at Ian. There was a very awkward silence.

“Yes, you’ve all kissed me. Ian. The quiet, asymptomatic carrier of expositionosis. Why am I asymptomatic? Because for a long time, I’ve suffered from monologorrhea. And before you jump in to explain what that is, Phil, let me tell you.

“Do you know what it feels like to grow up as an orphan? To never know your real parents? Of course you don’t. You have no idea how it is to wake up every morning wondering what made you such a terrible person that the woman who gave birth to you couldn’t bear to keep you around.

“And in fact, neither do I. I had no idea I was adopted until I was twenty six. And my adoptive parents were fantastic, never criticised or punished me, bought me extravagant presents and still take me on holiday every year.

“But I contracted monologorrhea at a very early age. And that means I take everything, even good fortune, as a personal affront which has to be rectified by a diabolical plan. The plan doesn’t have to be effective, or even particularly sensible: just devious enough to require a long-winded explanation.

“You see, the main symptom of monologorrhea is an obsessive compulsion to speak in multiple paragraphs. It’s actually quite demanding, modulating the tone of one’s voice to give the impression of a line break. But I’ve had many years of practice, suffering under the burden of this terrible disease. The real challenge isn’t the delivery, though. Not by a long chalk. The problem is coming up with schemes sufficiently convoluted to be worth explaining in a roundabout, long-winded manner which leaves one’s listeners inexplicably silent but always on the verge of worrying about what they’re doing with their hands.”

Phil began to speak. “So what was the –“

“I don’t need your help!” snapped Ian. “I’ve given more monologues than you’ve had hot dinners.”

“Well,” said David, “as jobbing actors barely scraping a living doing rep in this fine city of Birmingham, we can’t afford all that many – “

“That’s enough from you too!” Ian shouted. “I’ve started this monologue and I’ve got to finish it before we all lose the will to live.

“No doubt you’ve realised that Karen was my birth mother, so I will spare you the details of that discovery. How she became suspicious when she found out I had been adopted, knowing where I came from and when I had been born. How she hired a private detective to trace me through the orphanage. How he managed to get a DNA sample by buying me a drink and stealing the glass. I won’t mention that I realised something was going on, followed him and broke into his office, so that I knew the truth before Karen did.

“All I will say is how overjoyed I was, and how wonderful it felt when Karen called to say she was coming to see me. At last, I was going to be reunited with my real mother.

“And then there was the accident, and I never saw her again. My chance at happiness snatched away.”

Phil went to speak but Ian continued forcefully. “Why take it out on you? you ask.” He reached into his bag and pulled out an iPad. A few swipes, and the screen was alive with graphs and equations. He placed it on the table for the others to see. “It all comes down to chaos.”

“My God,” said Phil. “The Butterfly Effect!”

“Yes,” said Ian bitterly, “The Butterfly Effect. That preposterous post-modern nonsense the five of you insisted on staging. A butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park, there’s a hurricane in Ecuador. An actor declaims Rupert Brook dressed as a shark dangling from a feather boa, and there’s a typhoon in Birmingham. Karen knew that production would end in disaster. She did everything she could to prevent it. But you had to go ahead. You had to have your moment of intellectual posturing. And she paid the price!

“So now it’s time for you to suffer. For all of you to feel helpless as your sentences become longer. As your conversation becomes more and more repetitive. More and more – God, you’re right, that is annoying – My torment will be your torment. And there’s nothing you can do.”

There was another uncomfortable silence.

“You may be right,” said David at last. “But you two are not the only ones with an unusual condition. You see, I suffer from – “

“No!” shouted Ian, suddenly alarmed.

“Yes! Deusexmachinitis.”

“Of course,” said Phil. “A propensity to hide one’s true identity and capabilities until the situation becomes desperate, and only then to make an intervention which it would have been better to make much earlier.”

“Yes,” David continued. “You see, I am not simply a jobbing actor barely scraping a living doing – oh, for God’s sake – I am Inspector David Warner of Scotland Yard’s Biological Crimes division. We’ve known about your activities, Ian, since you infected James Taylor.”

Phil interrupted, “Then why did you let him –“

Deusexmachinitis!” insisted David. He placed a bottle on the table. “Drink this. It’s a cure for your condition. It takes effect immediately.”

“Then why didn’t you – oh, right.”

“You, Phil, have your cure, and you, Ian are under arrest. The day has been saved thanks to my unexpected and basically inexplicable intervention. The good have ended happily and the bad unhappily. Now drink up: it’s time for you to come along to the station.”

“So just to be clear,” started Phil, “Karen and Ian both discovered that she was his birth mother, and then – “

“For God’s sake!” shouted the others. “Just take the medicine, Phil,” said David. “Just take the medicine.”

Filed under: Humour, Writing

My name is Bond. Basildon Bond.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword.

They have no idea.

The year was 1949, the place, East Berlin. I was working for MI5 heading up the most elite unit of operatives ever assembled. While other spies worked on surveillance, defection and assassination, we worked on something much more important: propaganda. We wrote the words that steered the hearts and minds of those trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

We had been recruited from the ranks of journalists and advertising copywriters, pushed through basic training (speed writing, translation and memorising Roget’s Thesaurus) and then deployed in the field with nothing but a pen, a notepad, a convincing cover story and a small fortune in Deutschmarks. And naturally, those pens became the heart of our very lives. Developed by the brightest boffins Britain could boast, they came in many shapes and sizes, each designed to match the skills and needs of the owner.

Our lives depended on those pens. Because we never knew when duty would call. We never knew when we would have to pen a few words condemning communism, a ditty to dispel doubts, a bon mot to boost morale. At any time of night or day we might be called upon to find a motivating metaphor, an appropriate analogy or a singly scintillating sentence. Alliteration and assonance (as well as relevance and resonance) had to be second nature. And worst of all, we had to be able to do it all in German.

Our lives depended on those pens, and that was how I knew Vickers was in trouble. Vickers, the Yank, the only one of our number recruited from Madison Avenue and not Fleet Street or Soho. Visiting his apartment to pass on a new compound noun I found him gone, but his pen still there. In plain view. Plain view, for heaven’s sake. There was no doubt about it – he’d been kidnapped.

Vickers was a good man and a fine operative. He had been brought in to replace Stephens who, although dedicated, had always suffered with his nerves. After a particularly distressing assignment involving hanging propositions and a long chain of malapropisms he had returned to London where he had finally lost his grip on reality and his life had fallen apart.

Only one man in East Berlin would risk something so audacious as kidnapping an established agent. Alexander Goldfink, arch-villain, evil genius and inventor of the notorious Wonder Filler self-replenishing fountain pen. His factory in West Berlin created the pens used by the enemies of the free world across the globe, from Stalin to Mao to the petty dictators of Africa and the Far East. He claimed that they came filled with ink, but the truth was that they came filled with evil. He had prospered under Hitler’s regime and now exported his hate-filled Schreibgeräte throughout the world.

It was a cold December night as I trudged through the snow on Konigstrasse to find Der Tintenbrunnen, the inauspicious dive bar which served as Goldfink’s HQ this side of the Wall. The tiny door was marked only by an old and faded sign and a single lantern. I knocked twice, cursing the biting wind as I stood and waited. I could only hope I wouldn’t be recognised.

The door opened and I came face to face with one of Goldfink’s henchmen, a huge man at least twelve inches taller than me and probably twice as heavy. Of course, size isn’t everything when it comes to an all-out fight, and I could tell from the tattoos on his arms that spelling wasn’t his strong point and that he probably had little regard for good penmanship. I was pretty sure that if push came to shove, I could take him.

He led me down a narrow flight of stairs to a smoke-filled cellar where a few dozen people were drinking, grouped around rough wooden tables. Most of them were writing; everyone had a pen. Suddenly he turned and stopped me.

“Your pen, sir. I am sorry, but patrons are not permitted to bring pens onto the premises.”

Curses! There was nothing I could do. I reached into my coat and took out my instrument. Reluctantly I handed it over.

“Please be assured that we will take good cares for it.”

As I suspected – his grammar was weak too. For a moment I thought about distracting him with a double negative and wresting the pen back from him, but thought better of it. There was no benefit in causing a scene.

He stood aside, and waved me into the room. I walked over to the bar as he walked back up the stairs to resume his duties as doorman.

“What can I get you?” asked the barman.

“What do you have?”

The barman pulled a roll of cloth from under the counter and unfurled it before me. Inside was the motliest collection of pens I had ever seen. It might have been eight years since the Biro brothers had fled Germany, but their pernicious influence was stronger than ever and the collection of inexpensive plastic ballpoints before me made me sick to my stomach.

I placed DM100 on the counter. “You have nothing for the connoisseur?”

“Perhaps – “ he began, and then stopped as he glanced nervously behind me. “But it seems you have more pressing business.”

I looked over my shoulder to see two more of Goldfink’s henchmen. It seemed I had attracted someone’s attention. Taking me by the elbow, the one to my right steered me around and led me towards the end of the cellar where the other opened a small door. A few steps along a damp corridor led us to an office where a small man, who I recognised to be Goldfink himself, sat behind a desk, examining my pen under an anglepoise lamp. The henchmen pushed me into a chair and withdrew. I waited in silence as he finished his examination.

“Erasable gel ink with a retractable fountain nib. Only one man would dare to bring a pen like this into my bar.” He looked at me for the first time. “Basildon Bond, I presume?”

“Indeed. Forgive me. If I’d have known you were here I would have introduced myself instead of waiting for your assistants.”

Goldfink flinched only a little at my ill-constructed subjunctive. “Tell me, Mr Bond,” he began. “How did you find us?”

“Hanging over the door, I saw your sign,” I said, watching his lip curl slightly as he processed the dangling participle. “The colour of the ink was quite recognisable. It was a simple deduction given the data that was available.”

“Your little tricks will not work on me, Mr Bond. Today, almost everybody uses data as a mass noun.”

“I’m sorry to be so out of touch. It’s just that we have less operatives in the field these days.”

“Fewer!” he shouted, suddenly irate. “Fewer operatives! Operatives is a countable noun!” He took a deep breath and regained his composure. “Still. This is your pen, is it not?”

“I don’t believe it is. In fact, I don’t know to who it belongs.”

Goldfink gave a tiny yelp and a shudder. Pressing my advantage, I continued. “So – are you going to tell me what you brought me in from out there for?”

“Do not provoke me any further, Mr Bond, or Vickers will suffer for it.”

“Vickers?”

“Yes, Mr Bond.” Goldfink stood up and moved to the end of the room where a curtain obscured a section of the wall. He pulled it back to reveal a truly hideous sight. In an adjoining room, Vickers sat at a small wooden table illuminated by an overhead lamp. His arms were chained up, loose enough to allow him to write. His brow feverish and his face pained, he was scribbling away on tiny scraps of paper. Every few seconds he wrote a few words, then screwed up the paper and threw it to the floor. The mountain of paper balls surrounding him was testament to the time he had been there, as was the expression of anguish on his face.

“My god!” I exclaimed. “What have you done to him?”

“It is not what we have done to him, but rather, what he will do for us. You see, Vickers will spearhead a propaganda campaign within the US government. The purpose of this campaign will be to have them create a global communications network, rather like the existing telephone network. It will allow people not just to have conversations, but to publish all their thoughts and ideas. It will be hailed as a wonderful invention, a triumph for democracy and education. And then do you know what will happen, Mr Bond?”

“Enlighten me.”

“Millions of people will speak their minds to the world, and they will have nothing to say. And more to the point, they will not know how to say it. They will mix their metaphors. Split their infinitives. The will confuse “there”, “they’re” and “their”. And they won’t care in the least. The English-speaking world will be awash with badly spelled, badly punctuated trivia. Words will come to mean nothing, and people like you and me – we will become obsolete. But America and your own country – they will be ripe for conquest by the proud, grammar-loving German people!”

“He will never do it!”

“Oh, the Vickers you have worked with would never do such a thing. This is why it is necessary for us to break his will.”

I looked more closely at the terrible scene before me. “You swine! That’s – a Biro! No – it’s an imitation Biro! And – no, no, you wouldn’t!”

“Yes, Mr Bond. Look closely. The ink is green. Vickers has been composing short verses of condolence for the last thirty six hours, every one of them hideous to his refined sensibilities. Soon he will find himself in the same state as your friend Stephens.

I realised it was time to bring out the big guns. “Ah, Stephens. I remember him. He went to London, insane, and then under.”

Goldfink screamed at the awful syllepsis. “No, no!” he cried.

“It’s no use Goldfink!” I shouted. “Once one has scraped the bottom of the barrel, you have to stop flogging the dead horse!” He screamed even louder, falling to his knees. “I don’t mean to take the wind out of your saddle, but it seems to me you’ve been burning the midnight oil at both ends.”

“Please Mr Bond! Please! Stop!”

“Vickers may be a little green behind the ears – “ Goldfink was beating the floor with his fists by now – “but he still keeps his shoulder to the grindstone.”

“Stop! Take Vickers! Leave me be!” Goldfink held out the keys to Vickers’ chains. I grabbed my pen and marched towards the doorway.

“Damn grammar Nazis,” I snarled as I snatched the keys.

Releasing Vickers was the work of a moment. Barely able to grasp what was going on he smiled weakly at me as I threw away the chains.

“Come on old chap,” I said. “Time for you to go home.”

I can’t say how many heads we broke or infinitives we split getting out of there, but it was just half an hour later that I found myself putting an exhausted Vickers to bed in his apartment. A stiff glass of whiskey had calmed his nerves and I watched over him as, clutching his pen, he fell into a deep and restful sleep.

An hour later, back at my own flat, I too drifted into slumber, knowing that once again I had done my bit to defend right and freedom.

Or had I? How much of a threat was Goldfink, in reality? After all, he was clearly a madman. A global communications network where the proper use of language counted for nothing. The very thought!

Filed under: Humour, Writing

Wednesday Morning (short story / study piece)

This is a study piece. The aim was to write a story made up entirely of mundane events which nonetheless had a sense of drama and pathos.

Fifty years, Tom thought, was a very long time in prospect, but in retrospect, it was no more than the blink of an eye.

He looked at where his wife lay dosing fitfully on the bed, her brow damp from the fever. She was ill. No more likely to die today than any other day, but unwell, and miserable. At least now she was asleep, the cough that had kept them both awake the previous night held at bay with codeine.

He knew he shouldn’t leave her, that if she woke to find him gone it would upset her beyond measure. But there was little left in the house to eat, and no milk, which meant no tea. And there was a little spare money, enough maybe to –

He’d been a nurse, once; he’d been around sick people, dying people, most of his life. And he’d learned that, in the end, all you can really do is make people comfortable. Death and age are inevitable: people filled their lives with purpose and adventure, but in the end it was stripped away, and all that remained were the small things, the simple joys and the petty miseries.

Turkish Delight. Margaret loved it, but it was something they only ever had at Christmas. It was a luxury, not so much something they couldn’t afford but just something that was part of the extravagance of the festive season, and stayed there, like tangerines, and walnuts, and dates. But today, a little box… a little box might lift her spirits, and make the ‘flu’ more bearable. He could do nothing to hold back time, or make them young again. There would be no more adventures, and little purpose to speak of. But he could dispel the misery, just for a little while.

The morning sun shone strong outside. It was a little after ten. Margaret would be asleep for another half hour, more than enough time to get to Mr Ammindeep’s shop along the road and back. Some milk, some bread and some bacon. And a little box of Turkish Delight.

Treading carefully to avoid waking his wife, he crept from the room. Time had been kinder to him than to many of his friends and his bones creaked only a little as he lifted his coat from the hook in the hall and put it on. He checked his pockets to make sure he had his wallet and cursed inwardly. His wallet was there but his keys were not, and he remembered at once that they were in his trouser pocket, draped over the chair in the bedroom.

He crept back in and, as quietly as he could and wary of spilling the keys or the change from his pockets, picked up the trousers and reached inside. The keys retrieved, he placed the trousers back on the chair once more and gently walked from the room, closing the door behind him. He walked to the front door and opened it; stepping through, he inserted the key into the Yale lock and turned it so he could close the door without making a sound. This task accomplished, he looked about him at the autumn morning, and set on his way.

 

No more than 15 feet wide, Mr Ammindeep’s shop nestled between a fast food bar and a hairdresser’s, yet the small space inside was always full to overflowing, seemingly containing anything a reasonable man might desire. Groceries, hardware, newspapers, sweets – Mr Ammindeep’s emporium, as Tom liked to call it, had them all. Stepping inside, Tom gathered up the bread, milk and bacon that he wanted and carried them to the counter.

Mr Ammindeep, like his shop, was impossibly thin, but brimming over with good things. Wiry, friendly, and fiercely energetic, he greeted Tom enthusiastically and rang up the goods he had placed on the counter.

“That will be four pounds ninety eight please, Mr Jacobs,” he said brightly. Tom could see Mr Ammindeep’s son Aki in the back of the shop, busily re-organising boxes, trying to cram still more produce into the tiny space. He wondered fleetingly if Mr Ammindeep’s wife performed a similar function spiritually, spending her nights cramming more warmth and enthusiasm into Mr Ammindeep himself.

“And…” said Tom a little hesitantly. “And a box of Turkish Delight.”

“Oh, I am very sorry,” said Mr Ammindeep, his face suddenly grave, “but I do not have such a thing. Mrs Stephens came in this morning and purchased the last one. I have Milk Tray, Quality Street, Jellied Fruits?”

Tom shook his head. “Thank you,” he said, “but they won’t do. Oh dear.”

“Mr Jacobs. I am sorry that I have disappointed you. But I think that the supermarket on the high street will have the thing you want.”

Tom considered. The supermarket would most likely have Turkish Delight, but it was a bit of a walk and he would be cutting it very fine to get home before Margaret woke up. And while the groceries he had bought weren’t very much they were still quite a lot for him to carry all that distance.

He handed Mr Ammindeep a five point note. “Yes,” he said, “yes I will have to try there.”

“Mr Jacobs,” said Mr Ammindeep, handing him his change. “That is a long way for you to carry this bag. Why don’t you leave this here, and go to buy your Turkish Delight, and pick it up as you return home?”

“That’s very kind,” said Tom.

“Think nothing of it. For a valued customer like yourself, it is the least I can do.”

 

Tom looked at his watch as he stepped into the street. He had been gone from the flat just eight minutes, but that didn’t really leave long enough to get to the supermarket and back. Still, it was worth taking a chance.

He knew, though, that there was another danger involved in a trip to the high street: the dreaded Mrs McKenzie, organiser of Help The Aged and terror of the local geriatric community. A lifetime in the medical profession had brought Tom into contact with many overbearing do-gooders but Mrs McKenzie trumped them all. She had been bothering him to come to one of her cursed social afternoons for weeks now, and he was uncertain whether he would be able, were he to meet her, to fend her off any longer.

He quickened his pace as much as he could and walked to the end of the road where it met the busy high street. Turning right, he saw the signs for the supermarket a few hundred yards away and, stiffening his resolve, continued on his way.

The supermarket was, for Tom, no patch on Mr Ammindeep’s shop. It was too regimented, too anodyne. He wandered past the fruit and veg, past the refrigerated section, past the soups, the tea and coffee and the soft drinks until he found chocolate and sweets. Conscious that time was ticking away, he didn’t try to find the Turkish Delight himself, but instead asked one of the staff, a young man who looked to Tom as if he might not have been on solid foods for very long, for help locating it. After lengthy consultation with numerous colleagues, the young man led Tom to a shelf in the middle of the aisle, and left him to contemplate the varieties available.

A moment later, clutching his prize, Tom made his way to the checkout. The girl there had none of Mr Ammindeep’s warmth or energy, but listlessly swiped the box past the scanner and punched a few keys.

“Three pounds forty nine, please,” she said. Tom reached into his coat for his wallet.

It wasn’t there. He patted himself down, hoping to detect a tell-tale bulge in one of his pockets, but besides his keys there was nothing. He realised, with a sudden sinking feeling, that he must have left it, with his groceries, at Mr Ammindeep’s shop.

“I’m very sorry,” he said, “I seem to have forgotten my wallet.”

She looked at him unsympathetically, and said nothing. Well, he thought, what could she say?

“I’m very sorry,” he said again, and walked away.

 

He sat at the bus-stop, dispirited. He could only afford a minute’s rest or he would never get back to the flat in time, but there was no possibility of fetching his wallet and returning to the supermarket. He felt like such a miserable old fool. He had wanted so much to do something to cheer Margaret up and now the chance had passed. He would be able to make her a nice cup of tea and, if she felt up to it, a sandwich, but he had wanted –

In the distance he caught sight of Mrs McKenzie. Ordinarily, this would have sent him scurrying for cover. But in the circumstances, he realised that this was probably the only chance he had of salvaging his morning. Mrs McKenzie would help him, he was sure. She would patronise him to the point of humiliation, and there would probably be a further price to pay, but she would help him.

With a deep sigh he stood, and waited for her to arrive.

“Mrs McKenzie,” he greeted her brightly. “I wondered if you might do me a favour?”

She smiled a smile which made Tom feel like a post-coital preying mantis.

“Why Mr Jacobs, of course. Are we having a little problem?”

 

By the time Tom reached home again, his wallet and groceries safely retrieved from Mr Ammindeep, he was committed not only to the pensioners’ social the following Wednesday but, to his chagrin, calling bingo the following Friday. At least four hours of the company of Mrs McKenzie to look forward to. But she had gone back into the supermarket with him and paid for the Turkish Delight, and that was the important thing.

He stood quite still in the bedroom, watching his wife dosing in the bed. Perhaps hearing him breathe she woke, suddenly. Confused for a moment, she smiled brightly when she saw it was him.

“Hello, dear,” he said. “Did you have a good rest?”

She sat up and rested against the headboard. “Yes. I feel a bit better.”

“I’ve been to the shops,” he said. “I got you these.”

He handed her the box, and watched as her face lit up, delighted at what he had done. “You spoil me,” she said; and like patient, quiet guests the past fifty years of loving and caring were suddenly there with them.

He took her hand. “I know,” he said.

He wanted to hold her hand forever; he wanted to see her smile every day for the rest of time. He never wanted to let go. And the knowledge that one day he would have to let go was for a moment more than he could bear, until those silent guests gathered closer, and he felt himself there, fully present in that moment, and content. For this moment at least, there was joy, and love, and comfort.

“Go on, open it. I’ll make us some tea.”

Filed under: Writing

Finding Paris (Poem)

I always hoped that I would live
Some count of my allotted days
In Paris; and I saw myself
On baking August afternoons
A glass of cool pastis in hand
Committing deep and complex thoughts
To paper at a writing desk
In some small left bank flat, a broken
Down old manual typewriter
My muse and my companion.
On cooler evenings I would walk
The busy streets in search of love
Adventure and a mystery
And having tired the night would find
Myself in some small smoky bar
To toast the rosy fingered dawn
With friends who never seemed to eat
But lived on nervous energy,
Panache, ideas, and cigarettes.

The Paris of my dreams is not
The capital of France, nor any
Country reachable by air; I
Might as well attempt to visit
1934 or try to
Drive to ancient Egypt. No;
The city of my vision is
As much a thing of fiction as
The person that I like to think
I’d be while I was there – a place
Of intrigue and excitement for
A person without care or woes
No simple city this of people
Living ordinary lives, their
Days marked out by metro rides
And sandwiches and coffee cups.

So let us make our Paris here
And let us dare to be the ones
Who walk the streets and taste the night
Who seek adventures in the dark
Who think and talk and plot and plan
And let us leave behind, today,
The bills, the work, the pots and pans
And drink dark bitter coffee, smoke
Gitanes and speak of love and art
And truth and revolutions; let us
Paint a painting, write a poem
And turn the lounge into a dive bar
Gather all our friends together
Tire the night with talk and laughter
Whispering desire and hope and
Kindling long-forgotten dreams

Filed under: Writing

My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

My del.icio.us links